- Hamish Hart
X (2022) Review
AMID the mediocre collection of tiresome horror films, it's always nice to see a stylistic take on the genre, with director Ti West arguably being the king of modern horror -- even with his inconsistent track record as of late. But thankfully, West regains all credibility with his most recent endeavour.
Set in rural Texas in 1979, a group of six young filmmakers look to create a pornographic movie which their elderly neighbours are unaware of. But when their hosts discover what kind of movie they're creating, art begins to imitate life as the sextet discover that their careers -- and lives -- are in dire jeopardy.
The similarities between X and 1970's horror pioneer The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are unavoidable; both are set in rural Texas and star a group of young adults. However the film's differences outweighs its similarities with the horror classic, making X feel more like an homage as appose to a cookie-cutter ripoff. One of the most significant difference is its characters as the main antagonists are given clear motivations for wanting to murder these visitors rather than being undeveloped psychopaths killing for the fun of it -- even if their religious motivations aren't the most original gimmick in the world, but factoring in the back-country Texas setting, it is the most logical and believable motive to go with.
Despite being a straightforward slasher, the cinematography and set design was what carried much of X for me. Eliot Rockett has worked with director Ti West in many of his previous projects and its shows as there were some beautiful shots sprinkled in the movie. Specific scenes were enhanced by the camera work, particularly those utilising 360-degree lingering shots in order to create an enormous amount of suspense to set-up the impending scare which always felt earned and never cheap. On top of this, the script never had any glaring holes; there was never a point in the film that took me out of the experience. One particular moment that exemplified this was towards the end of the movie when a character grabbed a gun from their car, and upon firing said weapon, there were no bullets in the chamber. From first glance this moment comes off as yet another lazily written way to put our hero in more danger, but upon further dissection, you realise that this moment was actually foreshadowed in the first act when a conversation between characters revealed their gun has no bullets, instead utilising the weapon as a prop to scare off people. Tiny moments like this enhance what would've been an otherwise predictable horror movie with sprinkles of artistry to cover it up.
Everybody in X does a great job with the basic roles they're given. Kid Cudi, Brittany Snow and Martin Henderson all embrace their deviant characters, coming off as likeable in the best of times and hilarious at their weakest points. But amid all the wonderful performances stands Mia Goth who is beyond great in her dual role as the hero and villain. West could've gone with an older actress who looks similar to her, but deciding to have Goth play both roles was a risky choice which ultimately paid off in the end. Goth stands as the leading actor/actress by exhibiting bold, strong traits in the role of Maxine, while also being able to depict the opposite end of the spectrum in the killer, Pearl, rarely speaking and displaying her anger and ruthless nature through subtle eye and body movements.
X isn't the most original horror movie in recent memory, but then again, it doesn't need to be. The film shines as an homage to slashers of decades gone through its shocking use of practical effects that never feels egregious. Ti West has created a horror love-letter that manages to stand on its own due to effective cinematography and set design, and a soundtrack that transports audiences into the 1970s. Despite minor moments of lackadaisical pacing and predictability, X is one of the best horror movies I've seen in the past five years -- an easy recommendation for those itching for a good scare.